The third Endurance Cup round of the 2023 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe is the brilliant yet brutal CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. Dubbed the biggest GT race in the world, the Spa 24 is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish.
The Sky Tempesta McLaren was Garage 59’s top finisher in this year’s epic race, scoring a third-place podium finish in the Bronze Cup category, which also moved them up into the Bronze Cup championship lead. The #188 McLaren survived all 24 hours but contact on Sunday morning left the so far class leader with a four-lap deficit to make up. Unfortunately, the #159 McLaren, like many others, didn’t make it to the finish, retiring in the night with a suspension issue.
This year’s race got underway in very difficult circumstances. News came through on Saturday that young single-seater driver, Dilano van ‘t Hoff, had passed away as a result of a crash that morning. The young Dutchman and his family were very much on everyone’s minds throughout the 24-hour race.
The weekend didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts for Garage 59. The #188 McLaren was on course for a Top 10 grid spot and #159 was set to be one of the top Pro qualifiers but whilst queuing to leave the pits for the last of the four sessions, the #3 Mercedes crashed into the #159, which sent it into the #188, damaging both cars. The final result put the #188 McLaren 28th overall (8th in class), the #159 in 41st (18th in class) and the #93 in 46th overall (14th in class).
The opening two hours of the race witnessed a masterclass in overtaking from Henrique Chaves in the #188 McLaren and Marvin Kirchhöfer in the #159. Chaves gained an astonishing 24 places, hauling the #188 up from 28th at the start, all the way up to fourth place by the end of his double stint and into the Bronze Cup lead. Kirchhöfer too, gained and incredible 23 places, moving the #159 up from 41st to 18th by the end of his run.
The #93 Sky Tempesta McLaren had a tricky start after being delayed slightly by a false neutral early on. They quickly recovered and as they cycled through their four-man driving crew of Eddie Cheever, Chris Froggatt, Jonathan Hui and Jeffrey Schmidt they started to make their way back through the pack.
As with any 24-hour race, the trick is to get through the night and then attack from there so all three McLarens settled into the race, cycling through the driver crews and making good progress.
The first drama came deep in the night when the #159 suddenly pitted with what turned out to be a suspension issue. At that point Nicolai Kjærgaard was running strongly and had broken into the Top 10 so it was a bitter disappointment for Nicolai and his team mates Marvin Kirchhöfer and Benji Goethe when the team realised that the time it would take to repair the car would put it right out of contention so the decision was taken to retire.
Meanwhile, the #188 continued on, leading the Bronze Cup, cycling through Henrique Chaves, Louis Prette, Miguel Ramos and Conrad Grunewald, and the #93 continued to make good progress, moving up to fourth in class by the end of the night.
The morning had hardly begun when Conrad was hit in the #188, providing the team with an early alarm call as they leapt into action to replace a bent rear track rod. The #188 rejoined the race 15th in class with a four-lap deficit but a determination to fight on. They fought back all the way up to fifth in class but at the penultimate pit stop the starter didn’t work. The team quickly changed it but with a few more laps lost, the #188 McLaren crossed the line 11th in class.
Throughout all the drama, the #93 McLaren continued on with a metronomic performance. Dogged determination saw Eddie Cheever cross the line at the end of the 24 hours in 18th position overall and third in the Bronze Cup, securing the championship lead for Sky Tempesta.
Henrique Chaves #188
“It was a tough race as usual at Spa. We had the pace to win the race but an incident during the night compromised that outcome. We still pushed for the highest number of points but then another issue appeared. If we keep on working hard hopefully the luck will come our way.”
Jonathan Hui #93
“There were many highs and lows throughout this edition of the 24 Hours of Spa. The physical and mental demands to compete at this level are hard to describe, and that’s probably why many people call it the toughest GT race in the world. We came here with a main goal to take over the GT World Challenge Europe championship lead, and also to consolidate my position in the IGTC Independent Cup standings as the leader, and both of these objectives were achieved so a big thanks to Chris, Eddie and Jeffrey and the whole team for all their efforts.”